Meet Kenya’s activists risking their lives to fight their country’s crackdown on LGBTQIA+ rights

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Updated Jun 30, 2023 at 01:08 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

As Pride Month draws to a close in the Western world, it is crucial to reflect on the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights happening globally—a battle that is unfortunately far from over. In Kenya, the LGBTQIA+ community continues to face significant challenges, including systemic discrimination, violence, and the abuse of power by far-right extremists.

Thankfully, there are still dedicated activists working tirelessly to try and battle the injustices their country is facing. One such activist is Marylize Biubwa, who sat down with SCREENSHOT to discuss the worrying situation in Kenya and the urgent need for greater advocacy, resources, and protection for the queer community.

What is it like being LGBTQIA+ in Kenya and Uganda?

Before we get into things with Biubwa, it’s important to look at the realities of the LGBTQIA+ community in Kenya as well as in Uganda, and how the law has been changing against them.

Sadly, same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, as is the case in more than 30 African countries, but a newly-introduced law recently went much further in targeting LGBTQIA+ individuals and stripping them of their rights.

This decision aims to transform the legislation into one of the most severe anti-gay measures globally, sparking widespread condemnation and intensifying the risks faced by the queer community, including the possibility of facing the death penalty.

Regrettably, the recent progression across Africa’s many countries has intensified the prevailing apprehension and unease in Kenya, with the approval of Uganda’s bill giving way to the subsequent proposal of Kenya’s own Family Protection Bill.

The submitted bill asserts its purpose as safeguarding the institution of the family. It also advocates for the promotion of heterosexual marriages while prohibiting homosexuality, same-sex unions and relationships, “unnatural” sexual acts, and associated activities.

Furthermore, it seeks to condemn and prohibit any endeavours that support, endorse, encourage, finance, assist, or facilitate homosexuality and unnatural sexual acts.

The struggles faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals in Kenya and other regions of Africa are immense. Access to education becomes a challenge as queer students are denied enrollment in boarding schools due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Homelessness and rejection further compound the difficulties faced by the community, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive support and resources.

The activists fighting for change on the ground

Biubwa is a Kenyan intersectional feminist and activist currently fighting for the rights of queer individuals in her country. In our conversation, she shared chilling accounts of friends who tragically lost their lives due to brutal assaults within private queer housing organisations in Nairobi.

The violence inflicted on residents there was both horrifying and heartbreaking, with incidents of rape, torture, and even murder. These stories serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for justice and protection for the LGBTQIA+ community in the country’s capital and beyond.

 Biubwa fearlessly stated: “I’m not scared, and I’ll continue fighting, even if they are trying to kill me and silence me. I’d rather leave while standing on my two feet than live a life where I’m forced to walk on my knees.”

 Thanks to their incredible bravery, people like Biubwa have exposed the harsh realities faced by the queer community, including the denial of access to education due to the constant fear of violence. Their efforts have also shed light on the alarming risks some members face, even to the point of losing their lives.

As heartbreaking as it is, Biubwa’s stories represent only a fraction of the immense pain, anger, and resentment endured and felt by those who are seen as different or unconventional by traditional lawmakers and bigoted individuals. Their work has been instrumental in promoting transparency and justice, such as initiating investigations into cases like Sheila Lumumba’s, a 25-year-old Lesbian girl that was killed and raped in her home in Kenya.

On 30 December 2022, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of Education George Magoha made a troubling statement suggesting that LGBTQIA+ children should only attend day schools near their homes. This sparked outrage among activists and students, who took to the streets in Nairobi, holding signs that read “queer kids deserve safety in school too” and “all kids are equal.”

“I said if you are a homosexual in a boarding school and you are hopping from one bed of another student to another, your rights end there,” said Magoha in a poor attempt to argue that he was earlier misunderstood.

Biubwa and other protesters are calling for a more inclusive approach to education. They believe that the Kenyan education system should teach students about sexuality, identity, and sexual orientation to prevent similar harmful statements to be made again.

“We had a beautiful Pride in June, here in Nairobi, it was really special, and you could see the amount of people who are tired and ready for a change,” the activist told us.

Local organisations and the need for international support

Various organisations in Kenya, such as the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) and Protect Queer Kenya, work tirelessly to alleviate the struggles faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals. However, limited funding and resources hinder their efforts.

If you’re interested in supporting these organizations and contributing to their vital work, please consider checking out this link for donation options.

While significant challenges persist, it is essential to acknowledge the progress made in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in Kenya. The decriminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual acts in 2019 was a significant milestone, signaling a step towards greater acceptance. However, more work lies ahead to dismantle systemic discrimination and ensure full equality for the queer community.

It is vital to celebrate achievements while remaining committed to continuing the fight until every LGBTQIA+ individual in Kenya can live with dignity, respect, and equal rights. Activists like Biubwa embody resilience and dedication in their fight for justice and equality. The challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in Kenya require comprehensive support, resources, and advocacy. By joining forces, challenging biases, and demanding change, we can work towards a society that embraces diversity and upholds the rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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